The view from Kenya: South Africa's Minister's Remarks on Kenyan athletes ignite social media, by Justin Lagat

Fikile Mbalula, the Sports & Recreation Minister for South Africa, created quite a stir with his off the cuff comments on the differences in how South Africa and Kenya view sports participation. 

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Asbel Kiprop, photo by

Justin Lagat, our weekly commentator on Kenyan athletics, wrote the following about the disturbance in the twitter universe that Mr. Mbalula started. If you want to see more, go to # #someonetellsouthafrica or  #someonetellmbalula. 

Justin's column gives you an interesting view point on the furor. 
South Africa's Minister's Remarks on Kenyan athletes, by Justin Lagat

Kenyans woke up today to defend and show their love for their athletes and to protect the pride of their nation on the social media platform.
Among the most trending hash tags on Twitter in Kenya today were #someonetellsouthafrica and #someonetellmbalula , the latter probably having been initiated by South Africans to distance themselves from their minister's unfortunate remarks.

South Africa's Sport and Recreation Minister, Fikile Mbalula while speaking at a media breakfast meeting in Johannesburg,  had made remarks regarding Kenyan athletes that ended up sparking outrage from both Kenyans and South Africans (who were also quick to point out that their minister ought to be solely accountable for his own words).

It is reported that the Minister was responding to a question by a journalist who sought an explanation on why South Africa's national teams remain predominantly white despite the end of apartheid more than 20 years ago.

"You can't transform sports without targets," answered the minister. "But at the same time, South Africa wouldn't be like Kenya and send athletes to the Olympics to "drown in the pool" he added.

That is the statement that started the war on Twitter.

But, looking at the statement, there appears to be a possibility of the minister's words being misinterpreted. Who knows? Perhaps he meant that the South African athletes, being not as strong as the Kenyans, would "drown" amidst many other athletes from the rest of the world and not come out with any impressive results like the Kenyans. 

So far, the minister seems not to have come out to clarify what he really meant. The most valuable thing coming out of all this is that Kenyans are proud of their athletes, and are united to defend them.

Below are some of the statements I read on social media from some Kenyans: "I do not see anything wrong with his statement, although no Kenyan has drowned in an Olympic swimming pool. We should accept the fact that our swimming performance is well below par and not to make things worse, our only swimmer at the Olympics is white who rarely resides in the country! 

Some countries with poor performance in competitive swimming are nowadays given a wild berth at the Olympics for the purpose of promoting the sports in such countries. Where the average time for the 1,500m freestyle is about 15 minutes, they take more than an hour to cover the same distance. 

They do not drown though! Kenya should seriously start focusing on many other sports other than the long distance athletics. We should for example go and dominate the 400m, 200m and the 100m track races. Revive our pride in boxing, field hockey, cricket and others! 

Simultaneously widen our scope to cover other sports too. I do not see why a Kenyan cannot win a gold medal in a swimming event or a 100m track race! Let's take Mbalula's remarks as a challenge and not as an insult!" Commented one person.
"The answer needs explaining because it comes from an honorable (minister). I ask him to apologize and resign. It is not in the interest of anyone for leaders to demean other countries" Another wrote.
"Come on, Kenyans. We are just too sensitive about this! In sports, it is part of the fun to make fun of the other team. When it comes to swimming, SA is far ahead of us. Ergo, they can "drown us". 

But when it comes to running, we can cover them in dust!" Another one wrote. "South Africa's national teams are not predominantly white if soccer is considered the majority sport, the team is almost 100% black or colored. It's very simple, SA blacks love soccer, SA whites, colored and Indians love rugby, soccer and cricket. 

So what? In Kenya, if we decided that Kalenjins were too many runners, where would our sports be? Maybe they are so many Kalenjins because of a long tradition and burning thirst for athletics, like whites have for SA rugby," wrote another.

For many more comments, you can follow the two hash tags for yourself on twitter. Some are actually interesting.

It may not be certain what the South Africa's minister really meant by his remarks, but one thing is now clear; that Kenyans love and value their athletes.

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